Every day I fight a war against the mirror
Can’t take the person staring back at me
~~Pink, Don’t Let Me Get Me~~
I love Pink. Almost every song she’s ever written resonates with something that has happened to me or something I’ve felt in my life. This line, however, defines my life from the earliest time I can remember. I never really understood why until I finally started to break free from my husband’s abuse, but it started in childhood with little things my mother used to say to me about how ordinary and plain and ugly I was. It continued into my marriage because my husband couldn’t be bothered to say one nice thing to me, especially about my appearance.
The words my mother said have always stayed in my head, like so many demons, whispering my worthlessness. And if I dared to look in the mirror, they only intensified because I had nothing to fight them with. My husband, btw, knew about all this. I am a very open person and I told him about my mother’s abuse. I believe now that he found that useful, that I was just the sort of victim he was looking for. And so he continued, not be being open about how ugly he thought I was, how worthless, but by treating me in a way that made it obvious he thought those things, by ignoring me, by rejecting me.
In November I took the kids to Carpenteria for a short holiday. On the way up we stopped at their favorite Target in Oxnard and I bought them pajamas…there’s another long ugly story behind that which I will talk about another time…then off we went to the beach.
That night, after we’d showered and readied for bed, I, for some unknown reason, looked in the mirror.
Now, I suppose I should explain that by me not looking in the mirror it doesn’t mean I never glanced at one, it’s just that I never actually looked. Yeah, I might look in the mirror while I was brushing my hair or teeth, but that was only because it generally couldn’t be avoided.
But that night I looked and I saw my kids in their new pajamas behind me and then at my stained, old, ratty pajamas, and it was then I thought, “Gosh, I should have bought myself some pajamas.”
To a normal person this seems pretty innocuous and a discussion of such is probably pretty weird, but when you’ve been abused your whole life it’s a pretty radical notion…buying yourself something because, for a split second, you think you deserve something nicer than what you have.
I determined then that I would, on the way home, stop by Target and buy myself new pajamas. And I never wavered from it. The voices that should have come out screaming that I was a selfish b***h for even thinking such a thing, that I should be worried because I had no idea how much money we had and it was a selfish expense, that I wasn’t worth even new pajamas, never showed up. It was a radical moment.
I stood there and actually looked at myself in the mirror. It wasn’t an emotional moment, though now it causes great emotions, but it was enormous and I understood even then that something had changed in me so radically that I would rather someone kill me than I ever go back to what I was. Note, that I also did not just think I’d rather die.That, too, is significant for someone who has spent an entire lifetime struggling with suicidal thoughts…which is also another long, terrible story for later…
When I finally turned away, a question formed in my mind: Why do you dress the way you do?
And why did I? Why did I wear stained clothing that was older than my youngest child? Why didn’t any of my clothes fit nicely? Why didn’t I think I was worth more?
There are, of course, four answers: 1) my mother taught me I wasn’t 2) my father’s overtly sexual statements about women he’d see who were dressed nicely 3) my husband didn’t care what I wore, because he didn’t care about me 4) I had been told by the pastors in our old denomination that to think I was worth something was the epitome of false and, essentially, demonic pride.
I will deal with all these points at some future time, but for now, those were the reasons I thought I could not buy myself new clothing. And, all of a sudden, those voices had no power over me.
So, off we went the next day to Oxnard and I bought myself a new pair of very girly, extremely nice pajamas.
I drove home, the usual heaviness beginning to weigh down on me that even a return here from the grocery store elicits, but I pushed past it as I walked in. I got the kids ready for bed and put on my new, girly, pretty pajamas and my husband ignored me. The latter wasn’t a surprise, I mean he’s been ignoring me since October 9, 1993, so what else is new. But, while it was sad because, after all, he’s my husband and it really sucks not to be loved by your husband, it only reinforced my new mindset.
It’s been a weird few months since then. While I’m not crazy with the spending, my kids’ need for food and ballet lessons still pretty much takes precedence, I do buy something nice for myself about once a week. I am conscious about what I choose to dress in, even if I’m going to the farm. I wear make up. I make sure my hair looks nice, which included two trips to the hairdresser in two months. I normally go once a year. I still go to one of those discount places, food and ballet are my mantra after all when it comes to money, but even the $16 had always seemed more than what I was worth, especially when my husband didn’t care…I once cut about eight inches off and he never even noticed until I pointed it out, then he simply shrugged and said he hadn’t noticed and got angry with me for being upset because how could he expected to notice that sort of thing? (Inference, you’re so selfish for wanting me, who has actual important things to think about, to notice you, merely my wife.)
The weirdest thing of all is that my mother’s voice still plays in my head, “You are the most selfish, unthankful person for wanting something nice when you already have something that does the same thing.” Only now I laugh at it…and there might be a mental use of one finger involved. 🙂